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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Balak

You Hear What You Want To Hear

Hashem said to Balaam, "You shall not go with them! You shall not curse the people because they are blessed." When Balaam arose in the morning, he said to Balak's nobles, "Return to your country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you." (Bemidbar 22:12-13)

Rashi: You shall not go with them: He said to Him, "If so, I will curse them in my place." He replied to him, "You shall not curse the people." He said, "If so, I will bless them." He replied, "They do not need your blessing, 'for they are blessed.' "

For the Lord has refused to let me go with you: Only with greater nobles than you.

The dialogue between Bilaam and Hashem is totally incomprehensible. Hashem told him not to go and not to curse. Bilaam took this to mean he should hold out for a better deal. He kept on bargaining with Hakadosh Baruch Hu until he finally received the long awaited OK. The deal was on. And he was going to curse them.

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt"l (Sichos Mussar 5731) points out that in spite of the fact that Bilaam was the greatest prophet the nations of the world ever had, nevertheless his perception of the word of Hashem was colored by his own personal ulterior motives. His deepest desire was to curse Klal Yisroel. Therefore he heard that Hashem was preventing his going in order to protect his honor. These messengers weren't prestigious enough to accompany such an exalted personage as he. Bilaam simply did not hear the words, "You shall not curse the people because they are blessed." Everything was sifted through his crooked mind.

This reveals to us a basic law of human nature: a person hears what he wants to hear.

A misfortune happened to [Rav Ilish] and he was carried away captive. One day a man was sitting next to him who understood the language of birds. A raven came and called to him, and R. Ilish said to him," What does it say?"

"It says", he replied, "Ilish, run away, Ilish, run away".

He said," The raven is a false bird, and I do not trust it." Then a dove came and called. He again asked, "What does it say?"

"It says," the man replied, "'Ilish, run away, 'Ilish run, away."

Said [Rav Ilish]: "The community of Israel is likened to a dove; this shows that a miracle will be performed for me…. R. 'Ilish then rose and fled…. A miracle was performed for him, and he got across the river. (Gittin 45a)

Rav Akiva Eiger, in the Gilion Hashas cites the Sefer HaAruch who explains that Rav Ilish understood the language of the birds. The Seder Hadoros. however, objects. It seems from this gemara that Rav Ilish did not understand bird language but had to ask the fellow sitting next to him. If Rav Ilish indeed understood bird language why did he have to ask the other fellow?

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz offers us an explanation. The Sefer HaAruch was bothered by the Maharsha's question. If Rav Ilish indeed understood what the birds were saying, why did he ask the other fellow? But if he was relying on this fellow to interpret what the birds were saying, what did he gain? If he didn't trust the raven why did he trust the fellow sitting next to him who was obviously not Jewish? If birds can lie, so can a non-Jew. The answer, writes Rav Chaim, is like the Aruch: Rav Ilish definitely understood bird language, and really didn't need the other fellow's help. However, he didn't trust himself! He was quite aware of the law of human nature that a person hears what he wants to hear. Perhaps he was reading into what he heard from the birds. Therefore, in order to test himself, he asked the gentile if he heard the same thing. Once the gentile corroborated that indeed the dove had told Rav Ilish to fly, he was satisfied.

The lesson from this parsha is clear. A person is obligated to be on constant guard and test everything he hears if it was really what he thinks he heard. Perhaps he heard what he wanted to hear.

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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